How to Control your Wants & Impulsive Buying

Deciphering what is a want vs. a need is not always the easiest thing to do.

As we previously covered, at their simplest level they can be defined as:

What you need: the basic things that you need to survive and function effectively in society: food, heat/electricity, shelter, a means of transportation, clothing, communication, and water.

What you want: everything else.

The ‘what you need’ category can easily be muddled and wants sometimes get mislabeled as needs.

The ‘what you want’ category usually consists of things or services that are one-off purchases. They could range in price from something as cheap as a book to something as expensive as a car. And we’ll focus on these items in this post.

Some examples of wants include:

  • impulsive buyinga new pair of shoes to accent your wardrobe
  • a tablet computer when you already have a laptop or desktop
  • video games
  • a treadmill
  • a gym membership
  • a new set of golf clubs
  • the latest smartphone
  • a new piece of furniture
  • a DVD or BluRay

The problem with the purchase of most of these types of items is that we let our emotions take over. We convince ourselves that we will be happier, smarter, more attractive, thought more highly of, or better off in some way if we get that new item or service, which justifies the purchase.

Some of these ‘want’ purchases result from impulsive buying, but not always. Many ‘want’ purchases are deliberately planned out. We set out on a mission to buy something and we don’t stop until it’s bought.

A Method to Control your Wants


To control my wants, I have recently started documenting them in a way via a spreadsheet that invites rationality and cuts back on emotion. It also eliminates all impulse buying. Here’s how you can do it too:

  1. Make a copy of this Google docs spreadsheet to edit (you must sign in to your Google account to do this). Screenshot above.
  2. Any time you are about to buy something new, hold off on buying. Instead, enter what you want to buy on the spreadsheet, date it, give a future date to review (1 month out), give your reason for buying it, and research the alternatives (is there a cheaper or free alternative)?
  3. Rate the item on how badly you want it on a scale of 1 (seems like a good idea) to 10 (absolutely must have it).
  4. If you share finances with another, seek out their approval for the purchase.
  5. Come back 1 month later to re-evaluate and either delete the item, or move forward on purchasing it if it still makes sense to you.

What are the benefits to using this method?

  1. In documenting and waiting, you’ve effectively taken impulse and emotion out of buying. I am willing to bet when you come back in a month, you won’t want a number of the items you were thrilled about a month earlier.
  2. By putting something on this list, you acknowledge it is a want and not a need. This is a skill worth building.
  3. You will see exactly how many items you have been buying over time. This will be a real eye opener.
  4. It can allow you to rank the items in order of priority. Buy only the things that will benefit you the most.
  5. It will prompt discussion with loved ones vs. unspoken resentment after a purchase. It may just save your relationship.

Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

Cutting Down on Wants & Impulse Buying Discussion:

  • What tricks do you use to cut down on wants and impulsive purchases?
  • Do you think the method I’ve highlighted will work for you? Why or why not?

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